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2010-12-14
In a position to know
One sometimes comes across the phrase "(is) in a position to know". I think I have a rough understanding of what it means in a philosophical context, but I also sometimes wonder whether this is supposed to be a clear or even technical term. Could people point me to the sources of the phrase, if any, and/or to discussion of it? And how would people describe the notion in other words? 

Here are some very crude thoughts which may hint at my problems: It's clear that "being in a position to know" is much more restricted than ordinary usage would suggest; I am "in a position to know" what the weather was like on this date a year ago since I could find somebody who has the meteorological data; in this usage, I might even be "in a position to know" whatever is knowable (to me). But this is not the philosophical notion of "in a position to know". Sometimes people say things like that one "has" information, but that one isn't aware of it, or hasn't exploited it. This doesn't help me much, since it is just as unclear what the "having" of information is. But it suggests another link, viz. with the a priori. Perhaps being "in a position to know" an empirical proposition means that I have all the empirical evidence I need, but for some reason haven't drawn some conclusion that is a priori available, or even some mistake in such reasoning. Again however this criterion is obviously far too wide since there are many mathematical truths that are knowable a priori but which I am not "in a position to know".

Perhaps there is something obvious I have missed here. At any rate I would be thankful to be set straight!


Jorgen



2010-12-20
In a position to know
Hi Jorgen,

I think Timothy Williamson is probably responsible for injecting this expression into the recent discussion. It figures centrally in his (2000: Ch.4) anti-luminosity argument, which purports to show that no conditions are luminous in the sense that one is in a position to know that they obtain whenever they obtain.

According to Williamson's definition, one is in a position to know that p just in case one knows that p if one does what one is in a position to do. This definition doesn't say what it takes in order to covert one's position into knowledge, but Williamson is deliberately vague about this, since the anti-luminosity argument is meant to apply whatever spin you put on the expression. But the basic formula is something like this:

- One is in a position to know that p just in case one knows that p in conditions C.

In the context of Williamson's argument, the question is whether there is any way of cashing out conditions C such that there are some luminous conditions.

I have a draft online at http://philpapers.org/archive/SMIMAE-3.1.pdf called "Mentalism and Epistemic Transparency" in which I draw a distinction between epistemic and doxastic notions of being in a position to know (and justifiably believe). I claim that Williamson's argument shows that no conditions are doxastically luminous in the sense that one is always in a doxastic position to know whether or not they obtain, but fails to show that no conditions are epistemically luminous in the sense that one is always in an epistemic position to know whether or not they obtain.

One is in an epistemic position to know that p if one satisfies all the epistemic conditions for knowing p, e.g. justification, truth, safety from error in epistemically close cases, and so on. In order to convert one's epistemic position into knowledge, one needs to satisfy not only epistemic but also doxastic conditions for knowing p, e.g. belief, basing, and so on. One is in a doxastic position to know that p if one is in an epistemic position to know that p and moreover one has the doxastic capacity to convert one's epistemic position into knowledge. I argue (but this is contentious) that one does not always have the doxastic capacity to convert one's epistemic position into knowledge, so there are cases in which one is in an epistemic position but not a doxastic position to know that p.

A couple of quick comments on how this distinction applies to the points you made in your post: (i) I'm not in an epistemic or doxastic position to know what the weather was like a year ago because I do not satisfy the epistemic conditions for knowing this, e.g. having justification to form a belief; (ii) I'm in an epistemic position to know any mathematical proposition that is knowable a priori, but I'm not in a doxastic position to know it unless I have a capacity to convert my epistemic position into knowledge.

Anyway, I hope this helps, but let me know if you have any questions, comments or objections.

Best wishes, Declan

2010-12-21
In a position to know
This phrase appears a lot in Timothy Williamson. I take it to be a technical term that means something roughly like S is in a position to know P in so far as S satisfies some or all of the conditions for knowledge. But I would need to look at how Williamson uses it much more closely to say anything more definitive. 

2010-12-30
In a position to know
might also be worth looking at chap 1 of Williamson's book Identity and Discrimination where he talks about knowledge potential.

2011-01-17
In a position to know
Please, could you provide an example of your statement: "I argue (but this is contentious) that one does not always have the doxastic capacity to convert one's epistemic position into knowledge, so there are cases in which one is in an epistemic position but not a doxastic position to know that p."

Thank you very much.

2011-01-17
In a position to know
Please, could you provide an example of your statement: "I argue (but this is contentious) that one does not always have the doxastic capacity to convert one's epistemic position into knowledge, so there are cases in which one is in an epistemic position but not a doxastic position to know that p."

Thank you very much.

2011-01-24
In a position to know
Jorge, I'm not quite sure what you're asking for, but you can find the relevant arguments and points of contention in my paper "Mentalism and Epistemic Transparency". If you have questions about the paper, I'd be glad to try and answer them.

2011-10-18
In a position to know
Hi Jorgen. I think "in a position to know smth" means "be able to easily know smth by reflection alone". 

2013-09-10
In a position to know
Hi, I can't 'set you straight' on your question but the following came to mind. You could ask a meteorologist what the weather on March 3 2012, was like. But, on receiving a truthful reply, you would not be "in a position to know" that weather from personal experience. Instead, you would have access to what might be called hard facts. You would have no personal, empirical experience of the weather on that date. It would not be necessary for the provider of the facts to have experience (He might have been out of the country at that time, and simply checked the data to ensure a reply to your enquiry.)  Therefore you would be, in an indirect way, "in a position to know" what the weather was like. However, the new factual knowledge that you have is not founded on your observation of the world, but on the experience of someone else. Bert